The Christian in the World

by J. R. Miller, 1906

"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world—but that you protect them from the evil one." John 17:15

One of the great problems in Christian life—is to get through this world, without being harmed by it. Either Christians must be so sheltered that the evil of the world cannot reach them, or they must be left amid the evil—and kept unspotted from it. Jesus prayed that His disciples should not be taken from the world. He needs them here. A young mother whose husband had died said she would be glad to join him in heaven—but that her babies needed her here.

Some of Christ's followers have thought that the best way to live a holy life, was to flee from the companionship of men. But one does not get away from temptation, by being alone. We carry in our hearts, wherever we go, a great nest of evil things.

Besides, in fleeing from the world we would be fleeing from duty. Jesus told His disciples that they were to be the salt to check and prevent the spread of corruption. Every Christian is to make one spot of the world purer, sweeter, a holier place to live in. If we hide away from men, we are withdrawing the beneficence of our life from the world, and leaving our little allotted spot unblessed.

Jesus said also that His disciples were to be the light of the world. He wants us to throw our light where it is dark, that we may be a comfort to others and cheer dreary lives. If we go off into seclusion, we leave those places unbrightened, which it was our responsibility to fill with light. The Master wants His friends in the midst of the world's evil—that they may cleanse it, that amid its sorrows and hungers—they may comfort it.

Then we can grow into spiritual strength, only in the midst of the world's actual experiences. No one in training to be a soldier is kept away from hardness, out of danger, beyond the lines of battle. A mother, who would keep her boy in the nursery, away from other boys, so that he may miss the temptations and disciplines of boyhood and have no roughness or hardness to endure, is making a mistake. If the boy is to grow into strong manhood he must meet the experiences which will bring out in him the manly qualities.

Not away from the world—but amidst is struggles and strifes—is the place where Christ would have His followers grow up. Jesus did not live His own life in quiet nooks or in secluded places, away from people. He was always right among them, and they continually thronged about Him and pressed upon Him with their needs. Then when He came to die He did not go away into some secret place—but died in the midst of throngs.

Yet while Christ wishes people to live in the world, He wants them to be kept from the world's evil. James gives this definition of true religion: "Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this . . . to keep oneself unstained by the world." This is an evil world—but the Christian is expected to pass through it without receiving a stain or blot. He is to engage in the business of the world—and yet to conduct all his affairs according to the laws of the heavenly kingdom. He is to mingle with the people of the world and live out the divine law in his own relations and associations with men.

Some Christians have to live and work all the week among those whose lives are unclean, unholy. It would seem to be impossible for them to keep themselves unspotted in such contacts with evil. Yet that is the problem of Christian living which is set for them. Anyone should find it possible to live purely among those who are pure; and a true, honest, and sober life among those who are true, honest, and sober. But Christ's followers are to live purely, honestly, and soberly— among those who disregard all these laws of God. And this is not impossible. A traveler tells of finding a sweet flower growing on the edge of a volcano's crater. Likewise, there are Christian lives—gentle, pure, unsullied, white with heaven's whiteness, yet living of necessity in the very midst of this world's vileness, on the very edge of perdition!

Some people try to decide the question of right and wrong in detail. They make one catalogue which they label worldly, and another which they call unworldly. Different people make different lists, according to their training or habit. What one puts on the catalogue of allowable pleasures or amusements — another puts under the ban as forbidden. It is interesting to note where the line is drawn and to ask the reason for the distinction. For example, checkers, dominoes, and chess are put by some good people into the unworldly catalogue—games a Christian can play—while cards and certain other games are labeled worldly. In some places certain kinds of plays are considered proper—but dancing is regarded as immoral. It is not a great while since, in many Christian homes, a piano must be kept closed on Sunday, but an organ was regarded as unworldly. These are illustrations of some good people's efforts, to distinguish between the worldly and the unworldly.

Yet a little thought will show that this method of classification is not satisfactory. One may follow the most approved catalogue of conventional morality, doing only the things that are regarded as unworldly—and yet be utterly worldly in heart, in spirit! We cannot decide what is the evil of the world, by any such scheme of labels. How, then, can we know what is the evil from which Jesus asked His Father to keep His disciples from? True religion is not a matter of catalogues; its essential quality is obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount makes it very plain to us, also, that this obedience is not to be merely an outward form—but in spirit, extending to the feelings, motives, and desires.

The consensus of opinion says, for instance, that certain games are unworldly and therefore proper for Christ's disciples. A little company of Christians sit down together some evening and begin to play "Letters." It is certainly harmless—only the making of the greatest possible number of words out of the letters in the player's hands. The game is labeled innocent, harmless—but have you never seen the players, or one or more of them get into unseemly strife about some detail as they play—the admissibility of a word, for example, or its spelling? Perhaps an angry quarrel followed, and possibly some of the Christian player sulked the remainder of the evening. The evil of the world in this case, was not in the game—but in the unlovely behavior which resulted. Although the game had the sanction of Christian usage, the participants certainly were not kept from the evil of the world.

That which makes an act worldly or unworldly—is its spirit, its moral character. One may be engaged even in acts of formal worship, and yet be sinning against God. It is only a mockery to sing hymns and recite prayers—if there is in the heart no true praise, no homage corresponding with the profession which one makes. The Pharisees made long prayers and professed great devoutness. But Jesus, who saw into men's hearts, said they were hypocrites. "Not everyone that says unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." When Jesus prays that His disciples may be kept from the evil of the world—He is asking that while they are in the world, engaged in its work, its evil pressing all about them, the corruption may not touch them.

The problem of Christian living is not to avoid temptation, not to escape enmity, injustice, wrong—but in all our experiences, even when evil surges about us like a flood—to keep our hearts pure, warm, true, and loving. There are some people who are called to endure unkindness and unlovingness perpetually. They cannot change their condition. Even in their own home the atmosphere is unfriendly. Things which tend to embitter them are always present. They are unfairly and unjustly treated. Harsh words are ever falling upon their ears. How can they endure all this wrong, this injustice, this unfairness, and not be harmed by it? The answer is that they are safe and unhurt—so long as they keep love in their hearts.

Love was Christ's refuge, in all the hatred and bitterness which swept like sea waves about Him. He loved on in spite of all reviling and persecution, all denying and betraying. If He had once lost His patience, or grown resentful, or become provoked—His life would have been stained. It was so in all His temptations. Satan brought his suggestions of evil to the heart and mind of Jesus—but Jesus gave them no hospitality, and they left His soul unharmed. We have the same refuge. We cannot keep the evil from flying about us, whispering in our ears, alighting at our heart's windows—but we can keep it from soiling our souls! When we are wronged by others, it is easy to sin by giving way to bitterness—but we can keep ourselves from the evil, by keeping ourselves in love, by refusing to be angered, or to allow our hearts to entertain any bitter feeling.

Jesus prayed to His Father, to keep His disciples from the evil of the world. It is the will of the Father in every case to answer this prayer. He desires us always to be kept from evil. He permits temptations to come to us, for in no other way can we be made strong—but He never means us to yield to them. He intends that we shall resist, and when we resist a temptation, it flees and leaves no harm upon us.

Our Father desires always to keep us from evil. Why, then, does He not always do it? Is He sometimes not able to keep us? Are there some assaults of evil that even God cannot withstand?

The other day one was almost bitterly complaining of God because He had allowed a friend to fall into sin, after earnest prayer had been made that he would keep this friend. Why did He let him fall? We must remember that God does not keep us from evil by force. He does not build walls round us to keep us from being assailed. How, then, does God answer this prayer, that we shall be kept from the evil of the world?

Physicians tell us that the best safeguard against epidemic and contagion is vigorous vitality. Health is the best antiseptic. If one is perfectly well, full of the energy, the glow, the force of life—one can go anywhere. The weak are exposed. A man took typhoid fever recently and died in ten days. The doctors said his vitality was so low when the fever seized him, that he could not fight off the disease. If he had been in prime physical condition, he would have got through easily.

"If you wish to be insured against the plague—keep up your health." The same is true in spiritual life. If your soul is in splendid health—you are safe. The Master said of those who believed on Him: "They shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them." The devotion of the first disciples was wholehearted, unquestioning, unreserved, and they went amid the greatest dangers, unharmed. They walked in the filthiest highways of the worst heathen cities—and never got a stain on their garments! There is no other way of being sheltered now, for God will build no castle walls about you; you must be kept from within. A young Christian said that he could not be true to his Master where he was working—the only Christian in the shop, with a score of jeering, mocking companions. He was told to get full of Christ and stay where God had put him, and do the work he had been sent there to do. He did, and God made him His witness. Instead of being swept down by the evil—he mastered it and made his shop a sanctuary.

Our aim should not be, therefore, to seek easy places to live in; or to get away from temptation and persecution. We are to stay where God has placed us! The Master needs us right in the heart of the world's evil—that we may change it into good. But we must be full of Christ, or the evil will master us instead of being mastered by us. If we would bless the world, our hearts must be separate from the world and full of God, and our lives must be given up to the service of God and our fellow men.